My social media feeds blew up several days ago with friends near and far sharing their disgust over words an Iowa lawmaker spoke on the floor of the Iowa House. The lawmaker at the center of the kerfuffle is Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell who stands in opposition to a bill here in Iowa banning telemed or webcam abortions. The partial transcript of her speech follows. Or watch here if you prefer to hear straight from the source.
“I want to let you know that we as women know about babies. We love them. We adore them. But we also know that they have the challenges they bring. They have colic, the sleepless nights, the finances, the disciplinary challenges, the education challenges, the birth defects, the mental health issues, the learning disabled … the list goes on and on. And what women do know is that we know where our limits are. We absolutely know where our limits are — whether we’re ready, whether we’re physically ready, whether we’re emotionally ready, whether we’re financially ready to be parents — and we have the right to make those decisions.”
In response, many prolife media outlets naturally issued stories with headlines reading, “Lawmaker says crying baby is reason for abortion!” Or, “Democrat Legislator: A Colic, Crying Baby is a Good Reason for an Abortion.” And while I agree they were right to call out Wessel-Kroeschell on the colic comment, it was another word that caught my attention. What was that word?
Limits. She said:
“And what women do know is that we know where our limits are. We absolutely know where our limits are.”
On one hand, I get what the representative is saying about limits. Believe me, there are many days where I feel stretched to mine. As you do too, I suspect. That’s part of the human experience. But that doesn’t mean abortion is the natural conclusion to that discussion. If you feel maxed out, then avoid behaviors, like sex, with natural results that may take you beyond your limits. A baby is the natural result of sexual relations. That doesn’t mean we need abortion. It means we need chastity. As strongly as I feel about that, it’s really not the point of this piece.
Let me cut to the chase. How addicted to one’s self must a woman be to absolutely — as in totally, utterly, completely — know her limits? When we say things such as, “I know my limits,” aren’t we effectively making idols out of our own ideas? And haven’t we removed any possibility for the grace of God to work through us and transform us into the women we are called to become?
It all reminds me a bit of the book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life by Elizabeth Scalia who writes as The Anchoress at Patheos.com. In Chapter 2 titled “God After Us: The Idol of I,” Elizabeth writes, “The most painful truth is that the first and most difficult idol to dislodge is the idol of oneself … our ideas are full of I. Ideas are what first pull our attention away from God and from the wonder of knowing him.”
We absolutely know our limits. Could there be a more idolatrous comment? When we mothers buy into that propaganda, we are collectively pulling away from God and the wonder of knowing Him more fully when we submit to those messy, trying, yet beautiful moments that come with motherhood.
You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Grace builds on nature.” It’s accredited to St. Thomas Aquinas; some scholars say the phrase is actually, “Grace perfects nature.” What that quote means to me is that God’s grace works in our lives in such a way that it makes who we are and what we are better.
I haven’t been a mother all that long. God willing, I will be around to experience many more years. Maybe I will even be entrusted with the stewardship of one or more precious souls still to come. If anything, Wessel-Kroeschell’s comments have provided an opportunity to take a walk down memory lane and reflect on my motherhood. Where and when have I relied too much on myself? How have I cooperated with God and allowed his graces to transform me? Where have I put my hope?
This photo here is from my firstborn’s baptism at four-weeks-old. How did I feel about being a new mother? Well the look on my face says it all, doesn’t it? Puny. Clumsy. Insecure. Anxious. Worried. It didn’t help that my daughter screamed through the entire baptismal rite. I am not even exaggerating. She screamed through the entire thing. But we all got through it.
I had no clue what my limits were back then, and I have no clue what my limits are today. How could I possibly know? Blessed be, God has and is transforming me into the mother I need to become, not only for that child there but for the two others who have entered into my life since.
Here I am, four months postpartum after having our third child. Many tell me three is the most difficult number of children to have. Isn’t all parenting difficult regardless of the number? I pray I will never become too confident in my own limits that I shut off self-abandonment to God and stop trusting in His goodness. Especially now during this time when I’m entrusted with the care and nurture of His children.
I’ll leave you with a few words from Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a French Jesuit priest who lived in the 18th-century. Here’s part of his refection titled “The Woman’s Abandonment” from his book Abandonment to Divine Providence.
“It is undoubtedly beyond your power to reach perfection in the state to which God calls you: to attain it, therefore, you must not merely rely little upon the self but you must distrust that self utterly. You must put your hope in none but God, depending solely upon the help and strength of his interior grace that both now and in the past has enabled so many others weaker than yourself to do what seems so difficult to you. You must, then, say to yourself repeatedly: I can no more do these things, my wretchedness and my weakness being what they are, than I can fly like a bird.”